It was not until I read the fascinating book Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari that I was hit with the sometimes unfathomable realization that most things in human society are a figment of our collective imagination.
This realization was both mind-boggling to me but always freeing.
As Steve Jobs put:
“Life can be much broader once you discover one simple fact: Everything around you that you call life was made up by people that were no smarter than you and you can change it, you can influence it, you can build your own things that other people can use.
Once you learn that, you’ll never be the same again.”
Some of the biggest items that impact our life every day were simply thought up one day by a human and over time became a part of our collective imagination…crazy!
Some examples include:
- Money- What is money? It is a future promise right? You give me a dozen eggs and I will give you this paper that you can later trade in for something of approximately the same value. At the end of the day it is simply paper, or numbers in a bank terminal, or now transactions on a blockchain ledger. You may argue that you need money to survive…but do you really? When was the last time you used money to keep you warm? I mean the actual physical money. When was the last time you used money to avoid hunger? Did you eat some Benjamin Franklins recently? I doubt it. Money is only valuable because we all agree that it is valuable. (This is also why crypto has huge upside it will take a while for all of our collective imaginations to believe in it but when we do it will have value just as any other medium of money currently does).
- Nations- What is the United States? Point to it. You might point to the ground you are standing on but this is simply land that the United States owns. What actually is the United States? You might point to the President. This is simply the leader of the United States. You might point to the Constitution. This is simply the rules by which the United States should run. Once again countries are simply a figment of our collective imagination. But yet many wars and lives have been lost to defend these established countries.
- Corporations- Same thing for Corporations. What is Apple? The Iphone is not Apple it is a product made by Apple. The headquarters of Apple is simply the headquarters of Apple. It is not actually Apple either. Apple is a brand that a lot of people support and love but it is not actually real.
- Sports/Games- Imagine an alien that has no clue what happens on Earth and the first thing they witness is a basketball game or a football game. What is going on? These activities are not vital to any type of survival. We have all agreed upon a set of made up rules and have agreed to engage in these “sports” for fun.
- Yuval and others argue religion. I will not address that here but it is certainly the viewpoint of many.
Overall I learned that humans are fundamentally driven to connect with one another through a belief in something whether real or fabricated.
All of these five items seem totally normal to us today but at one time they were probably totally absurd.
Therefore it is best to realize that nothing in the human race is absurd. Sure it might take a few generations for an idea to catch on but ultimately most of our life’s are lived in make believe land anyway.
So keep dreaming and keep seeking to improve the world. No idea is too crazy!